The problem with the ACM is that it is an expression of the weakness of the working class in the current period. In the last 20 years the workers’ movement has suffered major setbacks. Not only have the unions and the social democratic parties in the imperialist world been typically replaced by Blairite liberal parties and non-unionised, casualised workplaces, but the defeat of the USSR and EE DWS’s has brought about a world-historic defeat for workers everywhere.
The ACM is a symptom of these defeats. It is based on a non-class mainly youth ‘movementism’ with few organic connections to the surviving labour movement. Instead of rebuilding the labour movement to take power in the workplace, the ACM movement aims for the highly protected and armed state machine whose very purpose is to repel attacks on bourgeois class rule. Instead of real class politics, the ACM indulges in staging televised street battles that are not strategically or tactically capable of building a working class seizure of power. Quite the opposite.
Events at Genoa show that the bourgeois state is prepared to use force to protect the interests of the ruling class. Therefore taking on the bosses’ states is not a smart tactic. Attacking its armed head is not the way to destroy the beast. Rather it is an invitation to the bosses to destroy the most advanced layers of young workers in isolation of the masses of workers. The ACM opens itself to state penetration and exposes new layers of young communists to the repressive forces isolated from the massed working class. Genoa showed that 100,000s of well-organised protestors could be disorganised and exposed to police attacks by the action of a few hard-core anarchists. Those links between anti-capitalist youth and the unions in the imperialist countries, and with the anti-capitalist struggles in the semi-colonial world are undermined by this lack of discipline.
The youth vanguard of the new new left needs a strong dose of Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks did not call for suicidal attacks on the state machine. Even when workers spontaneously rebelled during the July days in 1917, the Bolsheviks knew that they were not yet strong enough to take power and called on workers to pull back. Only when they had prepared the ground by creating ‘dual power’ where the workers had their own mass forces and militia, did they embark on an open attack on the state.
Such ‘dual power’ meant that workers had established control of industry, had formed workers’ militia and had won over crucial sections of the army. This meant that the working class had the capacity to challenge the ruling class state power and by defeating that power create a workers’ state.
Such a necessary development is lacking in the imperialist countries but it is emerging rapidly in the semi-colonial world where basic defensive struggles for jobs, welfare, workers rights and living standards come up against not only imperialist financial domination but also military repression. Such is the situation in South Korea, in Russia, in Papua New Guinea and in Argentina right now.
These struggles are not based upon adventurist attacks on the state. Rather they are actions that arise from demands for fundamental rights and conditions destroyed by imperialist super-exploitation. When imperialism forces the semi-colonial states in Korea, Russia and Argentina to cut jobs, wages and welfare, workers protests bring state repression. In each case workers strikes are met with state violence. In Korea and Russia police violence has driven the union leaders underground or face arrest. In Papua New Guinea when the police shot three students protesting at IMF austerity measures, elements of the armed forces joined the protest. In Salta, Argentina when police attempted to break up street barricades they were met with armed defence.
In all of these situations the necessary defensive struggles of organised workers and students leads to them taking steps to arm themselves against the state forces. The logic of these actions is the general strike and the formation of workers militia. In this event imperialism will launch military attacks and back the local state forces in suppressing workers uprisings. In Argentina, the fear that the insurrection in Salta will spread has led the President de La Rua to call for US military exercises in the region. Already in Colombia and Bolivia, US troops and intelligence forces are active in suppressing popular peasant insurrections. These military operations are crudely disguised as anti-narcotic ‘plans’ such as in Colombia or ‘peacekeeping exercises’ in Argentina. However they are dressed up they can only take place because the anti-capitalist movement in the imperialist countries is too weak to prevent them!
That is why the ACM in the North needs to become united with the ACM in the South in actual struggle. It is not sufficient to demand that debts be forgiven when already the imperialist military are deployed to enforce debt repayment!
It is not sufficient to demand respect for human rights when already the imperialists have broken up and ‘recolonised’ most of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, and terrorised the populations of Iraq and Palestine! The so-called ‘peaceful’ settlements in Palestine, South Africa and Ireland have all broken down because in the semi-colonial world, imperialism cannot continue to make super-profits and meet even the most fundamental democratic rights at the same time. The ACM in the North needs to grow up quickly and learn some basic lessons from the 1970’s when the anti-war movement physically tried to stop the US military from fighting in Vietnam.
The ACM will come of age when it succeeds in uniting workers, unemployed and poor peasants in an armed struggle to repel imperialism both in the semi-colonies and in the heartlands. To do so it has to refrain from adventurist attacks on the state and rebuild defensive struggles around the heart of capitalist production. That is the first step in creating workers power. Only when workers control industry, have built self-defence organisations and can win over rank and file conscripts in the armed forces, will they be the position to make the final assault on the head of the beast.
Class Struggle No 40, August-September 2001